During a budget hearing in Albany yesterday, State Sen. Daniel Squadron questioned Mayor de Blasio about the Rivington House fiasco. Specifically, the senator wanted to know why no one on the mayor’s team had responded to a letter he sent in December calling on the city to sue Rivington House’s former owner.
The mayor has personally blamed the real estate developers at the center of the scandal — accusing them of hoodwinking the city administration into dropping deed restrictions on the former nursing home. Based on the mayor’s public statements, Squadron said the former owner, the Allure Group, should be sued under the False Claims Act.
Mayor de Blasio was asked about the senator’s letter during a news conference in late December. He shrugged off the request from the local lawmaker, saying, “It’s easy to put out a press release.” The jab did not sit well with Sen. Squadron.
“Unfortunately, since I’ve sent the letter on the False Claims Act,” said Squadron, “the only comment and response from the administration, and this is unfortunately sometimes a pattern, was at a press conference where you dismissed the entire thing out of hand as a simple press release.” He went on to ask why the city isn’t pursuing legal action.
Referring to his dismissive remarks on Dec. 29, de Blasio told the senator, “I may have been speaking out of frustration. I didn’t mean to make it too personal. I apologize for that.”
As for the mayor’s many public statements assigning blame to the developers, he said they were, “based on a very heartfelt anger at what the developer did and a sense that the people were cheated.”
“I would love nothing more than to find a way to recoup what has been done to the community,” added the mayor. “But respectfully, long before your letter, I had asked this question probably two dozen times of my corporation counsel (and they could not find a legal avenue to pursue). “We’re not going to bring an action that we believe is susceptible to immediate defeat. So if you know something we don’t know (and)… you’ve found a path we haven’t, I will thank you publicly and we will implement it.”
In response, Squadron said, “Frankly it leads to questions when (officials) at the highest levels of the administration (are) accusing (the developers) of misleading (the city). “To just be told, ‘we agree but we can’t,’ is not sufficient for a community that is still smarting from the loss of a healthcare facility.”
The mayor agreed to set up a meeting between the city’s top lawyers and Squadron. He also pointed to new city laws, sponsored by local City Council member Margaret Chin, meant to prevent future Rivington House-like fiascos. And he said, “We committed to a nursing facility as part of our Health & Hospitals system that will help low-income seniors in your community as one way to give back some of what was lost. That is a good faith effort.”
Squadron said of the new project, located at 30 Pike St., “We appreciate the moderate investment to replace what happened at Rivington House from the city, but it is moderate. It does not replace Rivington House.”
You can see the full exchange from yesterday’s hearing below. The section having to do with Rivington House starts after about one minute.